China joined dictator Bashar al-Assad’s allies Russia and Iran in condemning the precision airstrikes by the United States, France, and Britain on Saturday.
The airstrikes targeted regime scientific research centers in Syria in response to the recent chemical attack against civilians that the Pentagon has attributed to the Syrian regime.
A day prior to the attack, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang warned against “the escalation of tension in Syria.”
Assad has touted support from China.
On Saturday, Hua Chunying, a different spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that the attack did not result in Chinese casualties.
“The Chinese government takes the safety of Chinese citizens there very seriously, and the Chinese Embassy in Syria has maintained close communication with them,” she said. “They are all safe so far.”
Beijing denounced the U.S. strikes, which the Pentagon reports “hit Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s chemical weapon research, development, and production facilities” in retaliation for the regime’s use of such weapons on civilians.
The Chinese government spokesperson told reporters:
We oppose the use of force in international relations and call for respect for other countries’ sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. Any unilateral military action bypassing the [United Nations] Security Council runs contrary to the purpose and principles of the UN Charter and violates the principles of international law and the basic norms governing international relations, and will further complicate the Syrian issue.
China urges the relevant parties to return to the framework of international law and resolve the issue through dialogue and negotiation.
Referring to the chemical attack that triggered the strikes, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for “a comprehensive, impartial and objective investigation,” suggesting that Assad may not be the culprit.
Before an investigation, “a prejudgment should not be made,” Hua told reporters, adding:
China believes that political settlement is the only viable way out for the Syrian issue. Relevant parties of the international community should continue to support the role of the UN as the main channel for mediation and make [a] relentless effort to facilitate the final settlement of the Syrian issue.
Both Iran and Russia warned of “consequences” in response the attack against the Assad regime.
“We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences,” Russian ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov proclaimed, referring to the strikes. “All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London, and Paris. Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.”
In responding to the attacks, Iran warned of “regional consequences,” the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the strikes as “an act of aggression against a sovereign state.” Meanwhile, President Trump indicated that Russia bears responsibility for the Syrian government’s chemical attacks on civilians.
During a press conference on Thursday, a reporter asked Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang to comment on a possible “military conflict” pitting the United States against the Syrian government and its ally Russia.
China is worried about the possibility of the escalation of tension in Syria. We always stand for peaceful settlement of disputes, oppose [the] wanton use or threat of use of force in international relations and advocate acting in accordance with the U.N. Charter…We call on parties to remain calm and restrained to ease the tension as soon as possible.
For years, speculation has arisen regarding whether China has involved itself militarily in Syria. Some news agencies have posited that China is mainly concerned with Chinese Uighurs (or Uyghurs) fighting on behalf of the al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in the country.
The Russian- and Iranian-assisted Assad regime has clashed with some of the groups Chinese Uighurs have joined. Assad considers all opposition groups to be terrorists. Muslim Uighurs fighting for both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) have threatened to attack China.
Last year, Ambassador Imad Moustapha, the Syrian envoy to Beijing, said there are “around 4,000-5,000 Xinjiang jihadists” waging jihad on behalf of various Islamic extremist groups in his country.
The autonomous province of Xinjiang is home to China’s predominantly Muslim Uighur minority.